Downtime

How to Socialize Distantly

Time to get creative.

Screens with faces on them, sitting on a table.
Hangin’ out like normal.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Slate and Getty Images Plus.

There’s so much we don’t know about how the next few weeks or months of self-isolation and quarantines will unfurl. But one thing we know is that, for the time being, every American is essentially in a long-distance relationship with almost everyone they know and love. So here are some ideas for how to socialize distantly that have worked for me, and other people I know, so far.

Plan a virtual dinner party. My family usually eats dinner with the same friends in our town once or twice a week. So we decided to cook the same meal in our respective homes, then set up a laptop on each table and Skyped while we ate. You could also “go out” to eat together by ordering takeout or delivery from the same restaurant in your area. You and your dinner companions can even assemble early via video chat to pore over the menu together, and have a drink while you wait for your food.

Start a group coronavirus journal. We’re living through historic times; the least we can do is take notes. Solo journaling has its place, but a group diary can serve as a daily social check-in and document the experience of a whole family or network of friends. A shared Google doc works, too.

Check the neighborhood Facebook page. Even if you normally hate Facebook and Nextdoor, they are a useful social resource right now. My small town was among many that unofficially participated in a “shamrock hunt” that cropped up on many parenting Facebook pages across the country this week. Everyone in town was invited to post a homemade shamrock in a window on St. Patrick’s Day, so local children could entertain themselves by finding shamrocks around town. Cute!

Start a book club. Book clubs in normal times are 95 percent solitary reading anyway.
Pick a book as usual, and move the discussion to Zoom or FaceTime. Or join a larger virtual club, like fiction writer Yiyun Li’s new three-month reading of War & Peace (it just started Wednesday, so you can catch up!).

Tour” some “museums” or “visit” a “national park.” The British Museum and the Louvre are among the museums that offer some form of virtual tours. So do five major national parks, via Google Arts & Culture. Frankly, this one sounds like a depressingly pale imitation of the real thing, but a lot of things are going to be less than ideal for a while!

Add some structure to your virtual happy hours. Use FaceTime or a similar service to keep your regular gatherings going, with everyone in their own living rooms. One pitfall: Virtual gatherings with more than a few people can quickly start to feel chaotic, because you can’t just cluster off into ever-rearranging groups of two and three. So some light programming is in order: One person I know is moving a monthly drinks gathering online, and assigning everyone to bring a poem, video, joke, or other topic of conversation to help manage the flow.

Partake of other substances together. Am I allowed to endorse this one? In any case! I talked to one creative fellow who had to call off a trip to visit a friend with whom his usual hangout routine is to get “extremely stoned” and watch random nonsense on YouTube. When coronavirus canceled the trip, they decided to compare smoking apparatuses over Skype and watch something together “as we hopefully get stoned in equal proportion.”

Practice telepathy. Who needs Zoom when you have the human mind? You and a friend sit in your respective homes at a set time, and one of you concentrates very hard on sending the other a specific simple mental image. The other person writes it down. Voilà, now you’re both thinking about a train or something. It’s the next best thing to thinking about a train together in the same room.

Talk on the phone. Historians say this was once a popular method for staying in touch with far-flung friends and family members. Contact your service provider to learn more about this technology and whether it’s right for you.